Just like the old days Misty upper body was bundled up with three long-sleeve tee-shirts and an insulated, wind-stopper Pearl Izumi jacket, while her lower half wore tights over capris. To complete the ensemble she’d wrapped a wind-stopper combination head band and ear warmer around her short white hair and one of her three upper body insulating layers had extra-long-sleeves with thumb cut-outs so she could keep her hands as toasty as the rest of her.
Joe on the other hand wore a single long-sleeve tee, a windbreaker, ratty old headband and baby blue, little-girl knit gloves bedazzled with peace signs. Leaning in close to his wife of 32 years Joe asked, “What’s your goal time?”
Misty exhaled, drew her shoulders up and mock shivered. The time was 8:40 in the morning and the sun had risen a full 100 minutes earlier. Thanksgiving 2018 had dawned bright, sunny, and, at least as far as Misty was concerned, cold. “Well, I’m not sure. Under forty-five? I’m really not feeling very well. How about you? Any predictions for the fight, Mr. T?”
“Is that T for Turkey?” Joe replied. “My goal is to finish in under an hour. Eight K in 60 minutes is right around five miles per hour. I can do that. I think!”
Misty smiled. “Sure you can, champ. And I heard this course is a little long so don’t get all bent out of shape if you don’t make it.”
“No worries. I’m afraid my go hurries days are over. So, what’s wrong? Cold?”
“As in do I have one or am I? The answer is yes; to both. It’s freezing out here!”
Joe looked at his wife and shook his head. “Not by a long-shot, hot-shot. Gotta be at least forty, probably closer to 45. You sure you don’t want to take off one of those layers?” he asked, emphasizing ‘sure.’
Misty grimaced and shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. I can always tie my jacket around my waist if I get too warm, not that that’s likely. You want to move up closer to the start? It looks like the kids are finishing their one-mile fun-run,” she declared, nodding at the little people who swam their way upstream, weaving through the thousand deep crowd waiting for the start of the Cary, North Carolina Turkey Trot race.
“Me?” Joe asked, eyebrows raised in incredulity. “No. As in. No. I belong in the back.”
“Okay,” Misty replied, winking at her husband. “That’s fine by me, but I’m going to scoot up some.”
Joe nodded, threw his arms open and hugged Misty as she stepped into his embrace. “Better hit podium finish for your age group if you don’t want to walk home,” he said, kissing his wife and returning her wink.
“Hmm. Interesting. Especially since I drove here and I’ll finish before you. Any wagers?”
“That you’ll finish before me? Sure. Like, how much, a hundred bucks?”
“Har, har, Joe, har, har. I’m going up front. Enjoy yourself!” she said, kissing him once more before winding through the crowd.
“I will!” Joe insisted to her retreating form. “See you at the finish.”
There was no National Anthem and the race start was split, with elite runners getting a two minute head start on the remaining 900 plus. Racers lumbered forward, walking until they passed beneath the inflatable finish-line marker and strode over the timing mat which cued them to start their engines and go! Crossing the threshold, Joe jogged, trying and failing to see his wife in the distance.
The beginning of the race meandered mostly downhill through residential streets. Joe peeled his jacket first, tying it around his waist by the sleeves. Next his ear-warmers came off and were placed in his left front sweatpants pocket, zippered shut to keep the two-decade old head-gear safe from loss. Lastly, long before he’d run half-a-mile, Joe plucked off his little girl gloves and zipped those into his right pants pocket. Passing mile-marker one Joe checked his old Timex Ironman triathlon watch. The stopwatch read 11:42, which was decidedly faster than he had feared. Joe bobbled his head back and forth, smiled and picked up the pace. “Just for a bit,” he promised himself under his breath.
The residential streets flowed along and near mile marker two the race went left onto divided boulevard, four-lane, Morrisville Parkway. Morrisville Parkway was usually a busy road and the inner lane eastbound and outer lane returning toward the west were cordoned off with orange traffic cones to segregate the runners from the drivers. Joe turned left onto Morrisville Parkway and immediately felt his flesh crawl; something was just not right.
Whatever was bothering him it did not adversely affect his pace. At mile-marker two his stopwatch read 22:40 and Joe asked himself, “Did I just finish mile number two in less than eleven minutes? That can’t be right,” he added shaking his head and trudging onward.
The crowd was thin in the back third of the pack and Joe grimaced as he saw a woman step to the right of the orange cones in order to stride around a trio of walkie-talkies that presented a slowly moving barricade to progress. “Whoa,” he whispered to himself as a driver honked at the woman as she crowded the car’s space, “there’s no prize money for coming in six-hundred-sixty-sixth.”
The blaring horn brought Joe’s fears to the surface. ‘Really? Really?’ he asked of himself. ‘That’s what’s bothering you? That we’re sitting ducks running with our backs to traffic and that somebody’s going to plow into us on purpose? Lighten up, dude, we’re not in France, or, for that matter, Boston,’ he added, thinking of IED’s and the brothers Tsarnaev.
With racers running both east and west on their respective sides of the streets Joe mistakenly assumed that the race was a simple out-and-back, and with that assumption he scanned the oncoming throngs in search of his wife. At first his failure to see her mystified him but before another half-mile passed he saw that the runners were making a small loop off of Morrisville and he figured that Misty was far enough ahead of him to have entered the loop but not far enough ahead to have returned to Morrisville Parkway before he’d passed the little section. Passing mile marker three he again checked his watch: 33:14. “Oh, it is on!” he said aloud before adding quietly, “Come on legs, two more miles. Pain is temporary, glory immortal.”
Joe first heard the sirens just as he turned into the course’s side-loop, “Crap,” he said under his breath, “no!” Not sure if the deep bass horns and shrill soprano sirens were ahead or behind him, Joe lumbered on, shaking his head and offering a simple, heartfelt, “Please, God, no,” prayer to the God of his childhood. “Come on!” he hissed as he strode forward. The scurry of sirens grew and an ambulance honked its way through the throngs snaked out before it, inching forward to a gathering of first responders who surrounded, attended and protected a fallen runner. Joe hesitated, he’d once taught First Aid and CPR to his sons’ Scout Troop, but then he inhaled, nodded and moved forward. ‘I can add nothing here. The pros got this,’ his mind told his protesting soul.
Morrisville Parkway returned, and at mile four Joe again checked his watch. Forty-four minutes. “No way!” he exhaled, adding, “Feet don’t fail me now,” as he entered the last uphill stretch. He assured himself that Misty was safe, that she awaited him at the race finish; but no matter how confident his brain was his fear questioned this necessity. Joe struggled on, the accumulated miles, the uphill finish and valiant athletic effort culminating in a race time of 55:30, a time faster than his goal but slower than his dream. Misty called out to him.
“Wow,” she said, walking next to him as he labored to catch his breath, “you look spent. How’d you do?”
Joe nodded wordlessly, pointing forward and gulping air as he walked. Misty asked, “Did you see the woman who had the seizure? She was lying on the side of the road.”
Joe nodded in affirmation then shook his head in protest. “Walk. No talk,” he gasped. They walked, Joe recovered enough from his effort to ask, “How’d you do?”
“Terrible,” Misty replied. “Forty-seven-twenty. How about you?”
“Great. Fifty-five-thirty. You peel any of those layers on your run?”
“Nope. Not a one. Were you warm enough?” Misty countered.
“Perfect, except one shady section where the breeze was in my face; maybe 20 seconds? I was afraid the sirens were because a car had smashed into some runners. Glad to know it was a seizure and not a, well, an attack.”
“Did you think that too? Isn’t that terrible? The first thing we think of is that we’re under attack? Well, as Mom always said, ‘It’s a different world.’”
“It is,” Joe replied, taking his wife’s hand and kissing it. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too,” Misty answered, squeezing her husband’s hand three times fast.